Seven Top Tips for Transitioning From College to Career

Seven Top Tips for Transitioning from College to Career

So you’ve finally graduated from college!

Now you are heading into your first full-time, “real” job.

Yay, you!

Here are seven tips to maximize your chances of success.

1. Look the Part

There’s a real mindset shift that needs to occur around your wardrobe as you head into your first full-time job.

This often requires an outlay of cash; consider it an investment. 

(Think about this as you receive money for graduation gifts.)

Your parents may also be willing to help you out with a loan or a gift.

What you wear to work varies widely with your occupation, the setting, and even the part of the country you live in.

Even if the dress code is … well, no dress code at all, there are some rules if you want to move up from that entry-level position.

Here are the non-negotiables as far as a dress code:

  1. Business casual does not equal “sloppy.” Clothes must always be clean, in good repair, and work-appropriate.
  2. Make investments in your wardrobe. Many college students have “throw away” clothes; this will not serve you well in your career.
  3. Opt for the conservative. This one is for the ladies. Sexy and revealing may be great for a Saturday night at the club, but not in a work environment.
  4. Purchase a few, well-constructed items rather than 20 pieces that begin to fall apart almost immediately.

This applies whether you’re wearing suits, business casual, or jeans.

(For more on this, read Preparing For A Job Interview – What To Bring, What To Wear, & More.)

2. Respect the System

Here’s what I hear most often about millennials in the workplace:

"They think they know more than the people who’ve been there for 20 years, and they want to be in charge of something from day one."

Stop rolling your eyes; this perception is not helping your professional image as a team player.

Better for you to learn the ropes and politics, and then find small ways in which you can make changes and contribute to improving your work environment.

What happens if you act like you’re already in charge from day one? 

You may never actually get a chance to be in charge.

3. Offer Your Unique Talents and Skills

The flip side of point #2 is that you may very well have some areas of expertise—say technology—that would greatly benefit your work environment.

It’s all in the presentation. 

Make sure that, by offering up your ability to revamp the website or set up databases, you’re not inadvertently putting anyone else down.

The difference is subtle but important.

  • If the office secretary sees you as someone who is willing to help her with some areas she struggles with, you’ll be a hit (especially if you can make her look good in the process).
  • If on the other hand, the secretary sees you as someone who doesn’t think she’s capable of doing her job, she will resist any efforts you try to make.

Which leads nicely to point #4 …

4. Respect All Employees Regardless of Title

In the previous point, I was talking about how to befriend the office secretary.

This is not someone you want to offend.

If she likes you, you’ll find your life will be much easier.

In the same vein, the secretaries you interact with elsewhere in your company, or in other companies you do business with, are also to be respected and seen.

They are important people and should be treated as such.

Treat everyone the way you want to be treated—janitors, the mailroom person, the company's CEO.

That way, you can neither be accused of being a snob or a suck-up.

I promise.

5. Be a Team Player

How can you accomplish this?

  • Offer to help others with their projects 
  • Volunteer to take on tasks no one else wants 
  • Offer to work on a weekend every now and then

These are all great ways to be a team player.

If you have an issue with a coworker, be mature enough to have an honest conversation with that individual to try to iron things out.

If you make a mistake, say you’re sorry.

Also, give praise where it’s due—make it specific, appropriate, and heartfelt.

If a coworker conducts 15 minutes of research for you that allows you to complete a report on time, mention it in a staff meeting.

If a coworker does something much more significant and time-consuming, perhaps treating him or her to lunch would be an appropriate thank you.

6. Cultivate an Outstanding Reputation

All of the points I’ve already mentioned are pieces of the puzzle when it comes to developing your professional reputation.

But there are other pieces as well:

  1. Deliver quality results on time and within budget. If either of these pieces is missing, your reputation will suffer.
  2. Speak with professionalism. What you say, and how you say it, has a huge effect on the way others perceive you.
  3. Be known as a hard worker. Lazy is a huge career derailer.
  4. Don’t gossip. I can’t emphasize this one enough; people will come to know you by what you say.
  5. Clean up your social presence. I could spend an hour telling you about people whose careers were derailed by inappropriate photos on Facebook. It’s time to audit your online presence and clean up your act. And remember, your social presence doesn’t just mean the absence of negative, but also the presence of positive. Shine online!

7. Network, Network, Network

Don’t spend your lunch cooped up in your office, snacking while working on your computer.

  • Go out with the group after work every once in a while.
  • Are there affinity groups you can participate in at work?
  • Can you get involved in the Chamber of Commerce through your employer?

There are lots of ways to network, and what is best for you depends on your field, your employer, your personality, and your availability.

But you really MUST network.

(Check out LinkedIn Networking Tips for Job Seekers.)

As a job search coach, I speak with clients every day who have let their networks go fallow for years.

Now that they are actively job searching, they are essentially rebuilding their network from scratch.

Did Noah wait until the rains started to build the ark?

Nope – he was out there in the sunshine.

People must have thought he was crazy, but think about who ended up where at the end of that story.

‘Nuff said.

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